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A great favourite

The ripe fruit flesh of chikoo contains large amounts of glucose, fructose and sucrose. The sugar makes it a favourite dessert item, not to mention a popular ice cream and juice ingredient.



ICE CREAM ESSENTIAL: The sugar makes chikoo a popular dessert ingredient. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

THE SAPODILLA (sapota, chikoo) is native to the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Native Americans living in the scorched wilds south of the vast fertile prairies treasured the energy-rich fruit of this drought-resistant tree.

Colonial ships carried the fruit to the Philippines; it reached Sri Lanka and India by the early 19th century. Apart from the fruit's delicious taste, the sapodilla tree's chewable latex made it one of the most important cash crops in the period between the American Civil War and World War II. Chicles- boiled and flavoured sapodilla latex, earned a fortune for chewing gum manufacturers until 1940, when synthetic gum largely replaced the plant resin.

The unripe fruit contain large amounts of tannin, and decoction from these fruit is an old Mayan remedy for diarrhoea. The Aztecs and the Mayans used tea made from young flowers and fruit to treat lung complaints.

Like the bark of the cinchona tree, they used sapodilla bark decoction to treat fevers. In the Yucatan, the locals use crushed seeds as a sedative. They also use the seed paste to treat animal bites and insect stings.

The active principles in the seeds increase the urine output of the kidneys; this diuretic effect made it a popular remedy for kidney stones.

The bark latex is one of the earliest fillers for tooth cavities. The red wood of the tree is tough and long lasting. Even a thousand years on, the wood still holds up the ruins of many a Mayan temple.

The ripe fruit flesh contains large amounts of glucose, fructose and sucrose- sometimes up to a fifth of the fruit's weight. The sugar makes it a favourite dessert item, not to mention a popular ice cream and juice ingredient.

Famous Ice cream's celebrated Chikoo flavour is an all-year favourite of the Hyderabadi.

With a little imagination, and patience bordering on the masochistic, it is possible to make jam, cake and bread from the fruit. The flesh is rich in Vitamin C, but contains few other nutrients in appreciable amounts. The fruit skin is rich in tannin that gives it its disagreeable taste and medicinal properties.

The seeds are toxic too. They contain the alkaloids saponin and sapotinin. Children who swallow the seeds may suffer from acute abdominal pain that is difficult to diagnose.

RAJIV M.

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